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Women’s History Month Highlight: Anne Majerus

Maddie Majerus, Co-President of the Reproductive Justice Club at ASU and Appalachian State University Senior

Before writing this, I had to ask myself, who in the reproductive justice movement inspires me the most? Who do I do my activist work for? Who am I hoping to change the world for? The answer to these questions is simple: for my younger sister, Anne, and all the other children in her generation.

Anne MajerusAt age fourteen, Anne was participating in photo campaigns for NARAL Pro-Choice NC, bringing her friends to their events, and discussing feminism with her classmates. As a first year student in high school, she proudly has a “Fight Like a GRRRL” sticker on her phone case, and an “I <3 Pro-Choice NC” sticker across her laptop. Anne does not let others tell her what to do or what to think; she holds steadfast in the face of adversity and is not afraid of being disliked for her beliefs. Whenever I am home from college, she tells stories about how her friends at high schools all across the Triangle are calling people out on their sexism, educating others about what is means to be a feminist, and standing up for themselves and each other.

I remember one occasion in particular when I was driving Anne and her friend, Hannah, to the mall so they could buy dresses for their eighth grade dance. They were talking about the dress code for the dance, and how it was unfair that the dress code revolved around what the girls could wear and did not involve the boys at all. Hannah said, “I’m not allowed to wear a strapless dress in case a boy tries to pull it down. Why don’t they just tell the boys not to do that? Its not fair that I’m the one with rules.”

It was such a simple question, but one that I would have never asked when I was their age. Throughout middle school and high school, I blindly accepted my schools’ dress codes that labeled certain clothing for girls “distracting.” I did not think to question why so many of my female classmates were pulled out of class and could not return to the classroom until their parents brought them a change of clothes so that their bra strap was no longer showing, or so the extra half inch of their leg was covered. I never stopped to ask, “Why isn’t this also happening to the boys?”

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to serve on a panel at the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 11th annual National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Arlington, VA and was blown away by the number of high school students in attendance, coming from all corners of the nation. These young feminists are running social justice clubs in their high schools, helping send children to school in other countries, and doing all they can to educate themselves in order to educate others. As someone who did not become heavily involved with social justice activism until my sophomore year in college, I was and am astounded and humbled by what these young people are doing and the conversations they are having. Their understanding of the issues facing our country and our world surpasses even that of some of my college-age friends.

Seeing the work my little sister, Anne, and her peers do for reproductive justice, feminism, and social justice is truly inspiring. They can’t even vote yet, and they are organizing their communities to effect positive change! It gives me great hope for our future. The next generation of young leaders are going to be quite the force to be reckoned with!

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Women’s History Month Highlight: Professor Angela Davis

Ashton Billingsley, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and NC State University Junior

Angela Davis is a writer, a college professor, an activist, and a feminist. She has challenged the oppression of women, especially women of color, and also takes the time to acknowledge the impact of women’s rights from a global perspective. Specifically, Professor Davis focused much of her research on tracing women’s oppression through history.

Professor Davis wrote, “Birth control — individual choice, safe contraceptive methods, as well as abortions when necessary — is a fundamental prerequisite for the emancipation of women.” This particular stance on reproductive rights is crucial to understanding why birth control and abortion access fit into a feminist agenda. Professor Davis highlights the connection between the right to birth control and the right for women to choose what happens to their own bodies.

MLK-Angela-DavisDavis is currently a Feminist Studies professor in California and continues to advocate for reproductive justice as well as many other reform platforms. As we approach the last week of Women’s History Month, I encourage each of you to reflect on how our society would be different without reproductive choice. We are not truly free without reproductive freedom and access. The world would be a different and much darker place without people like Professor Davis. Please join me in thanking Angela Davis!

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Women’s History Month Highlight: Doctor Rebecca Gomperts

Anna Lobastova, Co-President of the Reproductive Justice Club at ASU and Appalachian State University Senior

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 21.6 million women experience unsafe abortions every year and 47,000 of these women die as a result of complications that arise from these procedures. Within both feminist and human rights discourses, safe and legal abortion is often regarded as an essential right that allows for people to preserve their health, economic stability, and bodily autonomy in the face of an often-desperate situation. However, not every country in the world recognizes legal abortion as an essential right that it is, leading to the colossal amount of injuries and deaths cited by WHO.

rebecca-gompertsDr. Rebecca Gomperts saw these global violations of human rights happening firsthand in her experience as an abortion provider. After spending time as a doctor on a ship for Greenpeace, she made the connection that there was a possibility for expanding international access to safe abortion without violating national laws or sovereignty. In 1999, she founded Women on Waves, an organization operating out of the Netherlands that sails around the world, providing services such as non-surgical abortion, contraception, and reproductive counseling on their ship. Because they operate out of international waters, people are able to obtain access without having to risk legal action that their country may otherwise impose on them.

Currently, Dr. Gomperts is the director of Women on Waves and is an excellent example of a woman making positive change in extremely trying circumstances. Aside from the under appreciation of abortion providers worldwide, she and Women on Waves face barriers such as the cost of running their organization, the intricate planning necessary for their work, and the inevitable issues they run into with foreign governments and global political differences. When Women on Waves sailed to Portugal, they were blocked from the port by a Portuguese Navy warship that had been ordered there by the conservative federal government. In Poland, her ship’s arrival was protested with the phrase “Welcome, Nazis”– an unfair comparison that was meant to sting, given the country’s history of suffering during World War II.

Even in often-oppressive political circumstances, Dr. Gomperts and Women on Waves continue to perform their incredibly challenging but incredibly necessary work, demonstrating that the fight for reproductive justice is alive and well. With heroes like Rebecca Gomperts and her organization, the future of reproductive health access looks brighter.

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Women’s History Month Highlight: Suzanne Wertman

By Ana Eusse, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Campus Representative at UNCW

When I think about celebrating women, I relate it to celebrating the good in the world. Women represent the full journey of life. We bear the responsibility, joy, and pain of bringing life into this world. Wisely, the decision to bring a new life into this world is a power that has been given solely to women. And the choice over that decision must be left to women.

Deciding who to write about in this blog was difficult, only because I am lucky enough to know so many powerful women fighting for choice and ultimately reproductive justice. From my mom, to teachers, co-workers, mentors, I have been gifted with many women from a myriad of backgrounds who made sure I knew the importance of choice. These women emphasized the importance of reproductive justice and guaranteeing that women be treated with dignity and equality when making decisions about their lives and futures.

As I think about reproductive justice as a movement to guarantee that women making decisions about their lives are treated with kindness, respect, and dignity, nobody better represents this to me than Suzanne Wertman. Suzanne has dedicated her career to making sure that women, no matter their class, race, or circumstance have access to compassionate reproductive health care. _midwife_18_2

Suzanne is a certified nurse-midwife, home clinician at the Planned Parenthood Health Services in Wilmington, NC, and the president of the North Carolina Affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (NCACNM). In Suzanne, I have found not only a role model, but also a champion who leads by example. Her assertive attitude mixed with her deep knowledge for everything related to women’s health demonstrates to all those willing to pay attention that being a thorough practitioner comes with the responsibility to be an advocate. Suzanne’s advocacy for both women and medical practitioners dedicated to reproductive health is unparalleled. The need for such advocacy highlights the error of allowing politicians to act as doctors, doctors with no qualifications. Were it not for the advocacy of women like Suzanne the draconian politics of North Carolina would have already had a more dire impact on women seeking their basic human rights.

I admire Suzanne for honoring her education, but also for not being apologetic. When I see Suzanne, I think of those who have dedicated their lives to women’s health and those who have dedicated their lives to ensuring women can keep their dignity by assuming responsibility and control over their own lives.

When I thank my medical practitioner, I’m lucky to count Suzanne as my local midwife.

International Women's Day 2015

International Women’s Day: Make Reproductive Rights Happen

By Lela Johnston, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and NC State University Senior 

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day to not only celebrate the progress women have made but to acknowledge the ever-present work needed for gender equality. This year’s theme is “Make It Happen”.

No one woman’s life or experience is completely shared by another. There are incredible women in every single country of the world that “make it happen” every day—in politics, in business, in the arts, in their communities, in their families. This day is to honor all women. How could I possibly fit all of the social, economic, and political achievements of women into one blog post? Is there really one connection that all women share?

In fact, there is. There is one connection that stretches across geography, experience, and time, linking women in every corner of the world. And without it, gender equality cannot ever really “happen”.

Reproductive rights. The autonomy over our bodies—that is the one connection all women share. All women have the right to bear healthy pregnancies, to use contraception, and to access safe and legal abortion. Protecting the right to choose not only improves the success and upward mobility of a woman’s life: it saves her life.

Laws outlawing abortion only increase maternal death rates. Each year, an estimated 42 million women worldwide obtain abortion services to end unplanned pregnancies; approximately 21 million of them obtain the procedure illegally[1]. Complications due to unsafe abortion account for approximately 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide, nearly 50,000 deaths a year[2]. In under-developed countries, where abortion is often illegal, maternal death rates are much higher than in developed countries with access to abortion [3].

But threats to reproductive rights are not limited to the “under-developed” parts of the world. In the United States, battles to protect a woman’s right to choose are still fought daily on the state-level. Costly and medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers, from mandatory waiting periods to biased-counseling requirements to limits on public funding, make access to safe and legal abortion a near-impossible challenge. Anti-choice restrictions delay the possibility of safer, early-term abortions and increase the likelihood that women will pursue dangerous, unregulated methods to end their pregnancies.

As I celebrate International Women’s Day, I will celebrate not only the diversity of women and their achievements past and present, but I will appreciate the essential rights that link us all. Gender equality will be a reality only if women’s reproductive freedom is protected in every community around the world. With reproductive justice, we can (and we will) “make it happen”.

[1] World Health Organization (WHO), Unsafe Abortion: Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008, at 1 (2011)

[2] Guttmacher Institute, Facts on induced Abortion Worldwide (Jan. 2012) at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html#r15a

[3] Guttmacher Institute, Facts on induced Abortion Worldwide (Jan. 2012) at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html#r15a; Rachel Benson Gold, Abortion and Women’s Health: A Turning Point for America?, Guttmacher Institute, New York, at 31 (1990)

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UNCW Student Reflects: After 42 Years, is Roe a Reality?

By Ana Eusse, MSW Student and NARAL Pro-Choice NC Campus Representative at UNCW 

As we celebrate the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, those of us who support choice must ask if choice is a possibility if there isn’t an ability to access reproductive care. When healthcare is seen as a commodity, as opposed to a human right, the lack of access to full reproductive health access cannot be ignored, and it is imperative that we take that into account when advocating for choice.

This is particularly true when advocating for choice in poor communities and communities of color. The lack of access to women of color and poor women results in truly not having a true choice. Women of color, immigrant women (both citizen and non-citizen), and poor women have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, yet lack the resources to have an abortion. Many of these women never had access to the tools to stop them from getting pregnant.

Many think Roe has guaranteed access to abortion. It has and does not. The government’s control over poor women’s choice through legislation that denies using federal funds for abortions, like the Hyde Amendment, creates the lack of access for women who desperately need access to abortion. Subsequent legislation, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has allowed federal and state governments to erect further roadblocks impeding choice and preventing access for far too many people.

As a woman of color and a Health Care Assistant for Planned Parenthood, I am a witness to the struggles of women of all backgrounds who seek access to abortion care. These struggles include finding support in complete outsiders because her family and own community would never accept her making her own decisions; finding financial support to move forward with the procedure; and most importantly, removing the stigma associated when choosing to have an abortion. Unfortunately, the realities for women who seek to have an abortion are the institutional barriers such as government, religion, and gender that actively seek to remove not only access but also the fundamental choice itself. In preventing access, the government is completely overriding the Roe v. Wade decision and denying women the right to have bodily autonomy. 11Ana Eusse

Women really only have a choice when that choice is mirrored by access. Unfortunately, for many women the reality of having a choice is only the first step in deciding whether we can have an abortion. Once a choice is made, thanks to the Casey decision, the next step consists of conducting research to ensure you have the money for travel (including gas and lodging), as the closest clinic could be hundreds of miles away, possible childcare, time away from work, and then of course paying for the actual procedure which begins as high as $400. For the average poor woman, finding out whether she will have enough for food or gas everyday is a constant struggle, and when it comes to her own body, she can be discouraged from even recognizing what she CHOOSES because, well, there is just not access.

Concerned about deceptive advertising on campus that misleads students into believing CPCs offer comprehensive reproductive care? Please sign here: bit.ly/StopCPCAds

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NARAL Pro-Choice NC Student Allies Reflect on the Reality of Roe

“It has now been 42 years since Roe v. Wade, and we are still facing significant hurdles when it comes to our reproductive freedoms. I personally feel limited by the lack of information on my campus regarding abortion access. Our health services center, usually comprehensive and helpful, has zero information on abortion referrals on their website and in their lobby, but is eager to refer students to the crisis pregnancy center that is located half a mile from campus. Support and access is crucial for all women, but students at college campuses unquestionably have the right to be supported by their academic institution with regards to healthcare. ASU should provide a broad array of information and referrals for abortion services, not send students to a deceptive anti-choice “clinic”. I would personally feel much more at-ease knowing that my university would support me and guide me through the process if I chose to get an abortion.”

-Anna Lobastova, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Volunteer and Appalachian State University Senior

“I couldn’t imagine living in a time or a place where I felt as if my body and what I chose to do with it was controlled by legislation. Thanks to Roe v. Wade, women have the right to make their own choices about abortion. Trying to take away a woman’s right to choose is like telling someone that they can’t wear green just because YOU don’t think that it’s a pretty color. Well, I hate to break it to you but what really matters is what they think because it’s their body, not yours. People turn a woman’s right to choose, whether or not she wants to carry a fetus to full term, into a public decision, when it’s a personal matter. Personal issues like that have no place in legislation. Those who argue that they do, should think about how it would make them feel if their public lives were announced to the whole world. Instead of being judgmental of others, I think they should spend some time educating themselves on the facts: abortion is not unsafe, and it is not uncommon. Abortion is safer than having your tonsils removed and 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Reproductive care is a right that all women have and should receive. Whether it comes in the form of abortions, birth control, adoptions, or parenting, the right to an educated and well-informed decision should be given to everyone. When people try to place restrictions on access to reproductive health care, it is essentially denying a woman the right to make her own choices about her body, which is not okay. Due to the ruling of Roe v. Wade it is still legal for women to make decisions about their own bodies, but just because it is legal, does not mean it’s accessible.”

-Ashton Billingsley, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and NC State University Junior

“Why is the 42 year old Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade important to me as a young woman? Because I am a person capable of making informed choices for myself. Because I know that the “rights” I have been given only allow me to agree with decisions that have already been made which are more than likely not to be in my favor. But most importantly because I am a woman. A woman who knows that on this 42nd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade we have come so far in a fight that is not over. The fight making sure women, men, and families alike have knowledge on reproductive rights outside of what they are being told or what is in the news. It’s making sure the information being provided is clear and medically sound. And lastly that everything from general information about reproductive rights to birth control, abortion, pregnancy care, and adoption agencies are accessible. Let’s make equality a thing and Roe a reality. FOR ALL.”

-Raven Deas, NARAL Pro-Choice NC Intern and NC State University Junior

If you are concerned about deceptive advertising on campus that misleads students into believing CPCs offer comprehensive reproductive health care please sign NARAL NC’s petition: bit.ly/StopCPCAds